Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Challenge: A Photo-A-Day

We are so close to wrapping up 2014, it's time to write this post.

My New Year's resolution for 2014 (well, the one I kept, anyway) was a challenge for myself that I had heard of other people pursuing, and I thought it was a fun idea. The challenge? Take a photo every day of the year.

And here we are, at the end of the year, and I haven't missed one yet! It's easy enough to do, really. I have my phone in my pocket almost all the time anyway, and it's just a matter of being mindful of snapping a few pictures throughout the day, which I often did anyway.

Day 36

The challenge becomes trying to encapsulate a day while not letting the photo-taking get in the way of enjoying the activities of the day! (Since the point--for me anyway--was to capture life...not replace it with photographs.)

You can set your own "rules" for the Photo-a-Day challenge, but here were the ones I decided upon for my own project:

1. I had to take the pictures on my phone. (Which was a pragmatic choice for me, since I generally always have my phone with me.) I was curious to see the quality of pictures I could take with a cellphone camera; overall, I am pretty pleased.

Day 358
2. I was to be the photographer for each photo. (Since it was my photo challenge!) I did break this rule three times during the course of the year, when I decided that a photo taken by someone else on my phone was a better way to capture the day. In all three cases, it was because I was in the photo, and a selfie just wouldn't do.

3. I had to take the photo between midnight and midnight of each day of the year. I generally tried to also post the photo the day I took it, but there were a few times I wasn't able to post the picture the day it was taken for various reasons.

That's it! And really, it isn't about the rules anyway...this was just my own challenge, the way I set it up for myself.

If you'd like to see my year in pictures, you can feel to check out my Project365:2014 album. (Also, the pictures illustrating this post are a few of my favorites from the year.)

Day 162

I found a few benefits to taking on the Photo-a-Day challenge:
  1. I was more mindful of trying to capture my year in pictures. As I mentioned earlier, there was a tension of still being present in the moment instead of just trying to capture a shot, especially when the photo was something involving family and friends. But overall, being thoughtful about what photos I would take to sum up a day caused me to be more mindful about the way I spend my time for the year.
  2. Related to the first item, I found myself literally numbering my days this year. As I posted the photo for each day, I found myself really reflecting on each day, and how I had spent it. This sort of meditation and reflection was a real blessing for me.
  3. I looked back at my album for this project regularly. (Actually, I looked at it daily as I posted new pictures!) This was a great way for me to recall the events of the year. Even now, as I look through the album, I recall very specific things I did on certain days, even though the photo of that day might not have captured every activity from that day.
  4. I decided to add a short caption for each photo, which made this project almost a photo essay of my year, or maybe a photo-based journal of sorts. Keeping the writing pithy and to the point and letting the photo (mostly) speak for itself was part of the challenge; I tried to just use the captions for context as much as possible.
  5. I used Flickr for posting my Photo-a-Day, which I liked very much. I use photos from Flickr regularly for illustrations on this blog, because it's very easy to share photos on Flickr with a Creative Commons license (which allows you to grant permission to others to use your photos without giving up your copyright to the images.) Since I have benefitted so much from people sharing images with Creative Commons licenses on Flickr, I found this a good way to begin to give back to this community that has provided me with so much!
Day 311

I encourage you to give the Photo-a-Day challenge a try! Here's a checklist for getting started:
  1. Decide on a platform for posting your photos online. There are lots of options.
    • You might just post them to Facebook--either to a "Photo-A-Day" album, or just sharing them on your timeline
    • You could create a Flickr album like I did for my project. Signing up for Flickr is free and pretty straightforward. Flickr has a nice app too, which makes it especially easy if you are using your phone anyway.
    • Speaking of apps, Instagram might be a natural choice for you, if you are already using Instagram...
    • Notice that all of these so far are "social" in nature. Perhaps you'd like to keep your photos private? No need to share them visible to the world. Flickr allows you to keep your photos private, if you like. You could also set up a blog on Blogger (like this one) or on Wordpress, which you could make public or private as you like.
    • You could also create a website dedicated to your project, if you're feeling really fancy. There are quite a few easy-to-use, free website creators out there. Google Sites is functional and straightforward, if a bit ugly. Wix and Weebly and Tackk are all a bit prettier, and all easy to use as well.
  2. Decide on your "rules." These can be as flexible or stringent as you want. The rules I set for myself were just to provide some structure to the project. You know yourself--how much structure do you need for a project like this?
  3. Get started snapping pics! And...posting them, of course! (Because that's the fun part!) Follow your rules, but don't be afraid to break them as needed.
  4. Don't beat yourself up if you miss a day. This is supposed to be fun, after all! If you miss posting pics for a few days, you can always get caught up later. If you miss taking a few pics, don't stress about it. You can post a few extras, or not at all. It's your project!
  5. Don't be afraid to post "mundane" photos. So you don't have amazingly exciting things happening every day? Don't stress about it. Take a picture of something in your house, in your yard, in your office, in your car. Take a picture of your kids/spouse/pet/significant other/roommate/creepy neighbor. Take a picture of an everyday object, but take it from an interesting angle. Or slap a filter on it and see it in a whole new light!
Day 244

I hope you'll consider taking the challenge! I had so much fun doing this last year, that I'll be starting a new challenge for 2015 on January 1. If you decide to get started on your own challenge, share the link to your album in the comments section--I'd love to see your photos too!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Doctoral Work

I am about halfway done with the coursework for my doctorate. This has easily been the most challenging thing I've ever done...but I'm probably not alone in that assessment. And, c'mon...no one ever said earning an advanced degree would be easy.

It can become consuming. I'm working full time, studying part time, and still trying to be an active and present husband, parent, friend, church member, and everything else. Sometimes I feel like I'm just trying to keep on juggling...

...and sometimes I drop the ball.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Technology Does Not Replace the Teacher

This year I'm serving as an instructional technology coach for my fellow faculty members. It has been interesting getting started on this--it's a new position at our institution, and I'm sort of making my own way. I've been working with colleagues on an as-needed basis to support online teaching, to work with how to use our CMS to support instruction, and to brainstorm ideas for other tech tools they might use to support their teaching.

While I've been met with a mostly positive response so far, and quite a bit of gratitude for my willingness to help with their concerns about teaching with technology, I've had a few interactions this fall with colleagues who seem very skeptical about the value of technology to support teaching and learning. They seem to view technology as a stumbling block, or even a negative influence in the classroom.

I think I understand where they are coming from. Teaching with technology can be daunting, and particularly if one doesn't feel personally comfortable with the technologies at hand. And even being comfortable using a particular technology does not mean one is comfortable teaching with that technology.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Stretching Minds and Stretching Hearts

This morning I came across a quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes that I think is a fitting reminder for teachers:

"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."

Any implicit gender-bias aside, I hope and pray that this is what is happening in the courses I teach.

Image (modified) by Gregory Marton [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SAMR: How are You Using Technology?

Teacher, do you use digital technology in your teaching practice? Perhaps a silly question for those teaching in the 21st Century. How about another question then: how are you using technology in your teaching practice?

You have a SMARTBoard? How do you use it? Is it basically the same as the chalkboard I remember from my childhood in school?

You have a document camera? How do you use it? Is it basically a fancy overhead projector?

You have a cart of iPads? How do you use them? Have you digitized the worksheets you used to assign?

I realize I sound a little snarky here. (I am a little snarky here.) I know that in my own teaching practice, there have been times when I was so enamored with a particular technology (like when I first got an LCD projector back in 2001) that I used it indiscriminately--just because I could. I replaced writing with a wet-erase marker on the overhead projector with displaying PowerPoint slides on the screen.


Look at him go, Mr. Technology-fancy-pants.

(Note: sarcasm here. ^^^)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Misfits: Be More Rudolph

My fellow educators, this one goes out to the misfits, the oddballs.

Have you ever had colleagues mutter under their breath about your "crazy ideas," though you were confident of the fact that you were acting in the best interest of your students?

(I've been there.)

My advice?

Own it.

Don't stop doing what you know is in the best interest of your students.

Change your teaching practices. Rethink your assessment practices. Adapt your classroom atmosphere. Challenge assumptions. Go against the flow.

If it's in your students' best interest, you must do it!

Yep, people will talk.

They always do.

Especially about the misfits, the oddballs.

Don't let it get to you.

You matter. You make a difference. You are making your school, your classroom, your students' lives a little bit brighter.

Don't let the nay-sayers and name-callers dim your light.


Be more Rudolph.

Image from MindfulWishes

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tech Tool: SafeShare.TV

Imagine the scene: you've found this excellent video on YouTube that is perfect for illustrating a concept for your students. You decide to show it in class...and it's a great lesson! Except...one of your students points out the slightly inappropriate (or wildly inappropriate!) video being suggested on the sidebar next to the main video window.

Ugh. How embarrassing!

Wouldn't it be great if you could turn off those recommended videos? Or even the recommended videos that pop up after your video plays? Or remove those annoying ads? Or select just the clip you would like to use from a longer video?

Check out SafeShare.TV, an online tool designed to do all of these things, for free!

Here's how it works:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Hate Christmas

I went through a really low period in my spiritual life about seven years ago, and I was tremendously cynical about almost everything faith related. I wasn't walking away from my faith or anything like that, but I was really wrestling.

The Christmas season was especially challenging for me. In fact, I know I went so far as to say I hated Christmas. I was disgusted by all of the commercialism, and sparklyness, and blaring Christmas carols in the mall, and cheesy decorations, and all the demands and expectations and outright busyness of the season. Taking note of the ridiculous mismatch between what our broader culture says the Christmas season is about (STUFF!) and what I know Christmas is really about (celebrating the birth of Christ--the fullness of God wrapped up in human flesh!) I was disgusted. I was disgusted with how much the church has bought into the cultural message about Christmas. And I was really disgusted with how much I had bought into it as well.

I was angry.

I was fed up.

I was sick of it.

Something had to happen.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Visualizing the Internet in Real-Time

The internet has changed almost everything about almost everything.

A bold claim? Perhaps. But think about the mission statements of some of the best-known entities on the web today:

  • Wikipedia, a massive (free!) online encyclopedia "dedicated to expanding access to the sum of human knowledge."
  • Amazon, the digital shopping mecca, exists "to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."
  • Facebook, that social media behemoth, has ambitions "to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." 
  • Google, the king of search (in the Western world, at least) intends "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." 
And, (with the exception of Wikipedia), these are companies, looking to make a profit on the information--or access to information--that they provide, channel, control, and shape.

On the internet, facts are (generally) free. Information flows--channeled, perhaps--but flows in an unrelenting stream.

When I start to really reflect on this, I start to wonder. I wonder how much information travels the internet each day? And what kind of information?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sometimes We Make Slime

One of the courses I am privileged to teach is Methods of Teaching Science for PreK-Middle School. There are challenges in trying to find activities and resources that can be used for all of those grade levels (teaching preschoolers is, after all, a bit different than teaching young adolescents!), so I try to include a range of different activities: some that might work better for early childhood, some for upper elementary, some for middle school. But there are a few activities that we do in the course that seem to work well with every age group, or at least, can be easily adapted for use with any age group.

For example: sometimes we make slime.

Isn't this lovely stuff? You can make some too.
(The recipe...)

Slimes are so wonderfully yucky and tactile, almost every kid loves to play with them. Even my methods students--adults!--get crazy and excited when we break out the slime.

Recipes for Slime

Science teachers, make some slime and let the kids play!

I was a middle school science teacher for many years, and now I am privileged to teach future teachers how to teach science. Every science teacher should know how to make slime. The kids love it, and there can be fantastic science learning that happens by playing with slime!

My two favorite slimes are easy to make, and don't require any chemicals other than those you can probably find at your local grocery store. Here are the recipes for oobleck and glurch...

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bored in Class

In a recent #satchat on student engagement, a Twitterfriend shared this image: (Thanks to @Mrreiff for sharing, and for his permission to use the image here!)

Image via @Mrreiff, used with permission.
Check out his book, If Shakespeare Could Tweet

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Computers Programming Kids?

For a reading for one of the classes I'm taking this semester, we read part of Seymour Papert's classic book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. If you are Lego fan and have every worked with their robotics kits--also named "Mindstorms"--you are working with materials developed in collaboration with Papert. And, if you are of a certain age, you perhaps remember Apple LOGO (the "turtle" you could command around the screen?) which was developed by Papert as a way of teaching young children how to program computers.

I don't think I understood it this way when I was playing with LOGO as a kid. I was just messing around...though Papert would probably say that is the point. His philosophy is an off-shoot of constructivism called "constructionism" that involves creating (constructing) physical objects to represent complex ideas. This comes through pretty clearly when you think about the Lego robotics kits, doesn't it?

A functioning model of the Curiosity Rover, created using Lego Mindstorms NXT
Image by Erre [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reflecting on Social Presence

Those who regularly read my blog know that I am currently in a doctoral program, and I'm conducting my studies at Boise State University in the online Ed.D. program, studying Educational Technology.  Most of our work is asynchronous (we don't all login at the same time to interact), and while it is high-level, interactive, collaborative work, it is online, distance learning, which can be isolating.

But it doesn't have to be.

Since I'm studying online, I don't have the opportunity to have "hallway conversations" with my classmates as you might before or after a face-to-face class. But that doesn't mean we don't still interact outside of the discussion forums and VoiceThreads. In fact, our cohort does a really great job of keeping in touch using tools like Google Hangouts and TodaysMeet and Twitter. How much each of my classmates gets involved in these communication channels varies--not all of us have the same level of wanting to be in touch, I think--but I have personally benefitted greatly through this. I have built real friendships with people scattered across the globe.

If you've never experienced this kind of relationship-building, you might be skeptical about the level of friendship that can actually develop using only online tools. But I recently had an experience that confirmed it for me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Downfall of the One-Laptop-Per-Child Project

One of the courses I am taking this semester is all about understanding global and cultural developments in educational technology. This course has stretched me, but it has been enjoyable too.

As a case study, this week we are examining the One-Laptop-Per-Child Project (OLPC), which began almost 10 years ago. The brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte--founder of MIT's Media Lab--the idea was to create an extremely affordable laptop computer (in the range of approximately $100) that would be rugged and durable and easily deployed to developing nations. Funded by corporate sponsorship and private donors, the plan was to distribute these devices across the globe in places where educational technology was not readily accessible, and hopefully change teaching and learning there for the better. A noble goal, right? An altruistic, humanitarian project with the goal of improving education in areas where an education would be, presumably, a ticket to better standard of living.

Negroponte presented the project in a 2006 TED talk, which I highly recommend you take the time to view if you are unfamiliar with the OLPC project. In 20 minutes, it will give you a good understanding of what the project is about.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Social Presence and Online Video

I was at the Association for Educational and Communication Technology's annual conference this week I had the joy of meeting up with a group of my cohort and several of my professors face-to-face. It was a great time of hanging out together.

One of my faculty sponsors has done quite a lot of research in the field of social presence in online courses. I'm thankful that I have the chance to learn from and work with him, and I am especially thankful that I got to meet up with Dr. Lowenthal in person this week and hear one of his presentation at the conference. His passion and knowledgeability about his research area were inspiring!

Dr. Lowenthal doing his thing.

I am torn on my dissertation topic. I'm sure it will be either examining social presence in online learning or preparing pre-service teachers for the demands of technology integration, but between these two topics there is quite a bit of room. I was in sessions this week related to both of these topics, and I was hoping to gain clarity, but I'm still struggling a bit. I will say that after hearing Dr. Lowenthal's presentation, I feel myself pulled toward examining social presence at least in the short term, if not for a long term project like my dissertation, or at least for a future research topic after this degree is completed.

Here is a link to the slides from this presentation, which was all about social presence and online video. Maybe this gives a glimpse into why I find this so fascinating? (Or maybe you'll be left saying, "whatever, Dave...") :-)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How Should We Be Using Technology in Schools?

I admit that I'm a technophile, and I generally advocate for the use of technology in teaching (though I take "technology" pretty broadly...I've said before that a pencil is an educational technology...)

I recently came across this article from Forbes via Twitter: It's Time to Rethink Our Use of Technology in Schools. No matter if you consider yourself a technophile or a technophobe when it comes to using technology for teaching and learning, I hope you'll take the time to read it an reflect on what is being presented here.

Several provocative points that stirred my thinking:

"There is evidence that where schools and colleges use technology effectively there is a correlation with better outcomes. But that is not the same as saying the technology is actually aiding learning. It is not the technology that makes a difference, it is the teachers." (emphasis mine)

--> This is very much what I'm thinking right now. We often get pretty wound up about the possibilities of the tools, but good pedagogy still makes the most impact. Technology does not--and truly cannot--replace a great teacher!

"Five ideas for tech integration from Martin Blows:

  • Exchange: swapping traditional ways of doing things with ICT
  • Enrich: engaging learners with a richer mix of media
  • Enhance: encouraging deeper learning through the use of ICT
  • Extend: encouraging students to take their learning further
  • Empower: giving students control over their own learning

It is not the technology itself that is important, it is how it is used. And this requires investment not just in equipment but in giving teachers the confidence and competence to exploit it."

--> I love the five E's here, but I'm not so sure that "Exchange" is a good enough way to use EdTech. If it's a straight up swap, I'm not sure there is enough of a value-add for using the technology vs. not using the tech. My 2¢...

What do you think? Are there other great things that stand out for you here?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Is Technology Really Making us Antisocial?

I saw this tweet from History In Pictures yesterday, and it made me laugh:

What do you think? Is it really all that different than this one?

Image by Susan Sermoneta [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

I'm not saying there isn't a time to put the devices away...that would be like saying there was never a time to put the newspapers down, which is obviously ridiculous.

But I think we are quick to demonize the influence of digital technologies, and somehow think more idyllic thoughts of yesteryear without them.

Yes, we (I) need to be mindful of being "present" and putting the phone down. But is technology really making us antisocial? Or is it just more socially-acceptable to be "antisocial" today because we carry phones (which are really pocket-sized computers!) everywhere we go?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Keep those Plates Spinning

This week is shaping up to be a crazy week for me. Last week sort of was too. I simply have a lot going on right now. In fact, I sort of feel like this guy:

Sure would be nice if he had a friend to help him keep those plates spinning, wouldn't it?

Teacher, if you are feeling overwhelmed today, be sure to take time to connect with a friend. Have a cup of coffee with a colleague. Take 10 minutes to walk a lap around the school. Yes, in the meantime a few of your plates might start to wobble, but you can't do this on your own. This job is bigger than you. It's daunting to try to meet the needs of those 20 (30? 120?) kids that come through your classroom every day. It can be overwhelming to deal with the papers, the planning. There is always more you could do; there is always one more plate someone would like to see you spinning.

That's why it's so important to make time to connect with others. Knowing that colleagues have gone through (or are going through) what you're going through can be so helpful! Not in a "misery loves company" sort of way, but more of a "here's what I did and here's what I learned."

Teaching, like plate spinning, is the sort of vocation that gets better with practice. Don't be afraid to accept a little help, coaching, and support!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Digital Citizenship and Netiquette

Hey, it's Digital Citizenship Week! (Yeah, I didn't know that either, but Twitter told me. I checked...it is!)

As an EdTech fanatic, this is something near and dear to my heart. Schools have always had a role in socialization and teaching citizenship. In the 21st Century, that definitely has to include teaching students how to be good citizens in online interactions as well--because online life is "real life" for our students today...nothing "virtual" about it. (And honestly, online life is "real life" for all of us who use the internet for any part of our personal or professional life.)

I love CommonSense Media; I used their materials quite a bit for teaching digital citizenship when I was Technology Coordinator at a K-8 school. They have great stuff for parents and teachers and a lot of it is designed for use directly with the kiddos. I recommend you check out their ideas and resources for Digital Citizenship Week.

I also came across this great infographic this morning for helping to teach netiquette. What do you think? Does this seem like it covers everything?

Graphic shared by Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

We can't just hand them computers...they might learn something!

I confess it...I went through a kick sometime in the past year or so where I made a bunch of snarky graphics at someecards. In the batch someplace was this one:

I had used it to illustrate my point for a blog post about the way so many 1:1 programs are structured--very similar to what Cuban (2013) argues--as if the use of educational technology is some kind of magic bullet that will suddenly cause amazing learning to happen.
Actually, as I reflect on this, I think the silly graphic here isn't telling the truth. I think we can expect that kids will learn things if we hand them a laptop connected to the Internet. The problem is, in formal educational settings, we generally want to control just what it is that they learn, and ensure that it is focused on some broader educational goals or standards or scope & sequence of prescribed learning outcomes.
And this seems to be just the opposite of what Mitra is arguing for. Mitra et al. (2005) emphasize this in their very hypothesis: "if given appropriate access and connectivity, groups of children can learn to operate and use computers with none or minimal intervention from adults" (p. 2). For me, the question remains "Is this good enough?"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Online Learning the Same as Face-to-Face Learning?

Image by photosteve101 [CC BY 2.0]
I have been talking quite a lot lately with colleagues about online learning, and the benefits and challenges of teaching courses online. It seems that the question inevitably comes up whether online courses are "the same" as face-to-face courses. I find that such an interesting question! I think for my colleagues who have never taken an online course, it may be hard for them to imagine what the learning is like, because if the course is offered in a format they have not personally experienced in their formal education, they might be suspicious of its value. I wonder if there is a fear of the unknown that causes some to mistrust online learning in general?

The thing is, not all online courses are created equal. (But then again, not all face-to-face courses are created equal either.) I am convinced that there are ways we can structure online courses to make them robust, engaging, productive learning experiences for our students.

I have been facilitating a blended-format workshop (part of our work is online, part of it is face-to-face) for groups of my colleagues who want to learn more about teaching online or blended courses. I've really enjoyed this, and it's definitely a research interest for me: I have taught online, and I want to continue to get better at it. And, as I learn more and gain expertise in this area, I want to share the things I'm learning about pedagogy in the online classroom with others!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Moving Middle School from the Back Burner

Now that I teach in higher education I have joked to colleagues that I might look like a professor, but I'm still a middle school teacher on the inside. I taught in middle schools for the first 14 years of my teaching practice, and while I love what I do now (teaching future teachers), I do miss working with young adolescents on a daily basis.

That might sound crazy to you, if you aren't a middle school teacher yourself. Actually, it might sound crazy to you even if you are a middle school teacher. Teaching young adolescents is not for the faint of heart--and it isn't for everyone! But for those of us called to teach middle schoolers...wow. It's amazing!

The other day in my Introduction to Education class, I asked my students to participate in a poll as a hook to bring them in to the topic of the day (student development.) I asked them, "Which is the most difficult age group to teach?" Of the 30 students who participated in the poll...15 answered "Middle School."

Here it is--the actual poll results.

Clearly, teaching in the middle school is not for everyone!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rough Day? Permission to Play

Teacher, do you ever have those days where everything feels overwhelming?

Students are challenging.

Colleagues are not being very collegial.

Administrators have unrealistic expectations.

Lessons fall flat.

The paperwork seems unending.

Technology didn't work out the way you had planned.

The sum total is a rough, rough day.

I'm sure you never have days like this...

Okay, you probably do. At least, I know I do.

And on those kinds of days, do you feel like knocking down a wall?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Perspective Matters

Last week, I was at the Mall of America with my family. We didn't really buy anything, but we had fun exploring. We spent a fair bit of time at the Lego store. My kids love Legos. To be fair...I love Legos too.

While we were there, I noticed this Lego mosaic on the wall...

Nice pattern, but can you discern the whole picture from this close-up view? Let's step back a bit...

Monday, September 22, 2014

We Can Disagree About Things and Still Be Friends

I believe that disagreement is healthy.

Now, you need to know that this is a pretty bold statement coming from me. I generally dislike conflict. While I won't automatically back down, I generally strive for getting along with others, and finding points we have in common, rather than going around looking for a way to pick a fight.

But all that said, I think that disagreement can be a good thing.

Image via jon collier [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reflecting on My Learning: Introduction to Statistics

Image via lendingmemo [CC BY 2.0]
This semester I'm taking a couple of courses for my grad work, as usual lately. To be honest, I was pretty nervous for this semester, because I am taking my first ever statistics course.

Yep, that's right. I made it through high school, my undergraduate work, and even my M.Ed program without a required statistics course. (To be fair, in my M.Ed, we did take a "Research in Education" course that included just enough statistics to help us become good consumers of quantitative data, but we didn't do much with creating quantitative analyses.) I'm enough of a "math guy" to feel confident in my ability to do algebra, and I taught math, and even math methods for elementary teachers as an adjunct instructor. I know the measures of central tendency, I know how to create a bar graph and a line graph and a scatterplot, I understand P-values. But there is a lot of arcane terminology in the first few chapters I've read for the course... Skewness. Kurtosis. Nominal vs. Ordinal vs. Interval Variables.

While working on my homework early in the course, I tweeted:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Cold and Soaking Mist

A cold and soaking mist began to fall, chilling him through. The breeze picked up and he began to shiver, even as he was trying to keep moving, trying to warm up. His shirt began to cling to his skin with the damp, and soon droplets were shaking loose and falling to the ground. Alone, in the pre-dawn gloominess illuminated by passing headlights, he longed for home. A place to dry off. A place to warm up. A place to melt away the misty misery...


I'm describing my bike ride this morning. It was 47 degrees and fully dark out at 6:00 a.m. as I pedaled away from the house. By the time I reached the corner, the mist was just beginning to fall. By a mile in, I was shivering, and water was dripping from my handlebars. And as my shirt soaked through, I did decide to cut my ride short and head home. I was miserable out there.


I wonder if this description could also refer to classroom climate? Do students feel warmly enfolded? Or are they shivering in the drenching mist?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My Adventure in Flipping the Classroom: Middle School Curriculum and Instruction

I'm teaching a course this semester in middle school curriculum and instruction. While I can't choose one course as my "favorite" to teach (that's like choosing between your kids!), I do LOVE to teach this course!

I'm using the flipped classroom model for teaching it, which has been a great learning adventure for me. This means I record lectures for them to view outside of class (along with other readings and preparation work,) and then when we meet together in class we apply the ideas to real situations.

A screengrab from an online lecture I was recording.
Just check out the passion...or craziness...in those eyes...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

7 Attributes of Great Teachers

What characteristics does it take to become a teacher? Or, even better, what attributes describe great teachers? When you think of great teachers you know or have had, what stands out to you about them?

Thanks to my Twitterfriend, @johnccarver for sharing this gem.

I have been a professional educator for 17 years now, and while I have come to the point where I can say that I'm a good teacher, I'm still learning, still striving to get better. But here are the seven things I know for sure all great teachers have in common.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Copyright...and Copywrong

I've written before about how I think teachers are among the worst culprits at breaking copyright, and that we aren't doing our job if we don't model appropriate use of copyrighted materials for our students. (Our students are probably right up there too, but at least we tell them things like "cite your sources," right?)

I recently came across this video online (thanks @DailyGenius!) and it helps to explain how complicated copyright issues have become in the digital age. Consider it food for thought...

Given the immense complexity of copyright law, are we justified in throwing up our hands and saying we can't hope to keep up, so why bother citing sources for things? Tempting as that might feel sometimes, I think we need to model digital citizenship for our students and explicitly teach it.

How do you approach digital citizenship with your students?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Called to Follow

It's the beginning of the semester and we're thinking about "calling" in Introduction to Education, as in, "Am I called to teach?" This is a big question! I believe that teaching is a calling, and that God equips those called to teach with the gifts needed for the challenges of this vocation.

But I know that I've struggled with this notion of calling, and I can see it in some of my students too. Sometimes I have really struggled with whether I am following God's call. It sure would be nice if He would paint His message to me in blazing letters across the sky! Or at the very least, send a direct message to me in a way that I can't possibly miss...

Image by garryknight [CC BY 2.0]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Image via Mark Harkin [CC BY 2.0]
I remember watching some old movie or TV show when I was in elementary school back in the 80's (it was probably the kind of show my mom wouldn't have been happy to know I was watching.) In the show, the Bad Guys were trying to hijack a plane--they had guns!--but the quick-thinking pilot was able to save the day by pulling the plane up into a steep climb so the Bad Guys couldn't climb their way up the aisle to get into the cockpit.

Eventually, though, the plane stopped climbing, and "stalled." Now, 10-year-old me wasn't exactly sure what caused a plane to stall...but it was pretty clear what that meant: the plane stopped flying upward, nosed down, and began to dive back towards earth. Of course, this was great adventure on the show, because it meant that the Bad Guys went tumbling forward toward the cockpit, banging their heads and getting knocked out.

Meanwhile, the passengers were safely buckled in their seats, screaming about the plane plummeting toward the ground, and the editors cut back to a shot of the pilot and co-pilot straining as they heaved on the control sticks to regain control of the plane. Of course, they were able to level out and land safely, where police officers met the plane on the runway to take the Bad Guys away.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Ten Students You Have in Your Class

In my last post, I shared the nine teachers you meet at school. Today, let's consider the students. I enlisted my son and our Lego collection to help me think up the ten students you likely have in your class...

Does this look like your class?

I was amazed as I talked with my son about his insights into human nature as it manifests in the classroom. Here is what we came up with:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Nine Teachers You Meet at School

My son and I share a common bond in our love of Legos. Yesterday I snapped this picture of a sort of bizarro "Super Friends" team assembled from our collection:

Quite a team, right?

This morning, I started thinking (and laughing) about this picture again, and my thoughts turned toward teaching. This crazy picture reminded me of the many different approaches teachers take to their teaching practice. So, if you'll indulge me, here are the nine teachers you meet at school:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Thoughts about Meaningful Interactions in Online Courses

As regular readers of this blog will likely know, I am currently part of a doctoral program in Educational Technology, and my learning in this program is online.

The online design of the program is deliberate. It is convenient for me to be able to study at a distance, to be sure, but I'm also learning--both through the content of my coursework as well as the pedagogies employed--how educational technologies offer alternatives to face-to-face learning environments.

Early in my program, we spent a significant portion of a course reading about, discussing, and reflecting on the No Significant Difference phenomenon: the fact that countless research studies have shown that there is no statistically significant difference in learning outcomes when the media of instruction is varied. The body of research reviewed is comprehensive and compelling; it goes back to the 1920's, and includes correspondence courses, video-based instruction, and--more recently--online courses. The results indicate that while the experience of the course may be different, the learning is "not significantly different."

I confess though, I still get hung up on this point. Because the learning experience is not identical.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Best Thinking Right Now

When I was taking my first class for my Masters' degree back in 2004 or so, our professor, Dr. John Van Dyk, asked us to craft a concise, personal faith statement and philosophy of education. This was a challenging task for me at that time, but it was so valuable. I eventually posted it on my school website as a way of helping parents understand where I was coming from.

John invited us to share our statements in class if we were willing. I was thankful that he also shared his own, and I especially loved the title he gave to his. In fact, I loved it so much, I asked if I could borrow it as a title for my own:

"My Somewhat-Tentative, Though Pretty-Sure-Most-of-the-Time, 
Open-to-Revision, and Somewhere-on-the-Road-to-Sanctification 
Statement of Faith and Philosophy of Education"

That seems about right, doesn't it? I love this because it acknowledges three truths:

  1. I am striving to continually learn and (hopefully) grow, so my thinking and beliefs might change over time.
  2. That said, I am quite confident of my thinking at this point, even though it may change in the future.
  3. I will never have it all figured out on this side of glory...but that doesn't mean I shouldn't keep working, learning, and developing.
And honestly, that's what I'm trying to do with this blog. The intention is to share "my best thinking right now" with an audience that can give me feedback, encouragement, pushback, and affirmation in turns.

So I finally got around to creating an "About this Blog" page that hopefully acknowledges and explains my purposes for the writing here.


As a final note, and in case you are reading this, John:

I am so thankful for John's influence in my professional life. Certainly there have been a great number of educators who have left fingerprints on my teaching practice, but if I had to choose one person who has had the greatest impact on the way I think about the integral nature of faith and learning, it is Dr. John Van Dyk. His influence on both how I understand the craft of teaching as well as how I carry it out in my classroom is pervasive. Thank you, John, for your encouragement to teach well! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#GreatTeachers are #alwayslearning

Over the past year, I've been working to build a new hashtag on Twitter that I may or may not eventually try to launch into a chat. (My Twitterfriends Rik Rowe and Jim Cordery have been very encouraging in this regard!) The hashtag is #GreatTeachers, and I use it to post pithy descriptors of what I view as great teaching. (Tricky, because I am not so big-headed to think I'm a "great teacher"...but I do think I'm a good teacher--maybe even with moments of greatness--and I am always trying to learn, and get better, and hopefully get closer to being "great.")

It is in that light that I tweeted the following earlier today:

I had some retweets, favorites, and comments in response. (That is always so affirming!) The best comment? One from my chemistry-teaching Twitterfriend, Safia. In a series of tweets, she shared this in response:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

10 Ways to Use Social Networks as a Teaching Tool

In my last post, I shared a story as an example of how I learn from my PLN. I use Twitter as a key part of my PLN--I'm there to interact with other educators, to share ideas and resources, and to learn. Twitter (and other social networks) seem like a perfect fit for learning, but perhaps best for informal, personalized, just-in-time learning. This has me thinking and wondering about how well social media fits as a teaching tool. Can social networks be used for formal, whole-group, structured learning as well?

Image via Garrett Heath [CC BY 2.0]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Using Social Networks as a Learning Tool

I love Twitter. If I had to pick one tool as the linchpin of my PLE, it would have to be Twitter. It's such a great way to learn about topics you find personally or professionally interesting--as long as you can find a hashtag to follow. It's also a great way to connect with other educators who share your interests. I--like many thousands of other educators--use Twitter for my own learning. But how can social networks be used as a teaching tool? Twitter seems ideal for informal, self-directed learning. But how well does it work as a formal, teacher-directed learning tool?

 Since I love learning via Twitter, I put this question to my PLN:
I also tweeted the request specifically to some thought leaders in EdTech and innovative education whom I thought might have some ideas and resources for me, including Scott McLeod, Kevin Honeycutt, George Couros, Wesley Fryer, Alice Keeler, Rick Wormeli, and Eric Sheninger. Some of these wonderful people had specific examples off the top of their heads and shared links. Others referred me to colleagues on Twitter who had stories they could share. Most retweeted my request to their own huge followings. What happened next was fantastic.

Honoring Orville

I am a bibliophile.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who uses the Kindle app on his iPad for almost all of his reading today. You would think that I might too, given how techie I am.

But I don't.

Give me a real book. In fact, give me a stack. Give me a library.

I actually have a stack of new books sitting here in my office that I intended to read this summer, but now that summer is half over, it's looking unlikely that I'll read them all.

But I did grab one, just to get started. It was the smallest and shortest book in the stack. The title? Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie. I read it in one evening.

My summer reading stack, and the one I chose to read first.

It is a lovely book.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Meaningful Learning

I just came across this image in a SlideShare presentation by Catherine Cronin:

This image is a screencap from a presentation by Catherine Cronin (@CatherineCronin.)
Used with permission.
As I reflect on how I conduct my teaching practice, this is so much of what I'm striving for with my own students.

Yes, there are still facts students need to commit to memory.

Yes, there are basic skills students need to practice toward mastery.

Yes, there is a time and a place for drill and practice.

But overall, I think learning is more meaningful when we get beyond these "just the facts" approaches.

Think about your own learning preferences, teacher. Do you learn the most from sit-and-get professional development? Or are you more engaged when you have the chance to discuss and interact with fellow learners? Collaborate in working toward a goal? Thoughtfully reflect on readings and conversations?

Recognize that your students may have different needs than you do as a learner because of their age...but how satisfied would you be with learning if it was always...
  • reproducing someone else's ideas, 
  • receiving other people's thinking about ideas, 
  • repeating the same tasks over and over, 
  • driven by competion with fellow learners for attention, for opportunities, for grades, or 
  • prescripted learning with no choice for what or how you learn?
How meaningful would that learning be?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Examining your PLE

In this wired (wireless?) age, every educator can and should have their own personalized professional development plan. The sources of information you turn to--whether a colleague down the hall, or a colleague half a world away that you only meet up with online, or a library full of resources, or any online resources you rely upon--make up what might best be termed your personal learning environment (PLE.)
Your PLE is not the same as my PLE. We are unique individuals. We have different needs, different specific interests, different strengths and weaknesses.
That said, we might connect using the same tools, and you might share resources I find valuable, and vice-versa.
In the online learning space, there are a great many sources of information that can make up your PLE. You probably use a wide variety of tools as elements of your own personalize learning, right? Here is how I mapped out my own online PLE:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Realtime, Online Professional Development

It's interesting to track your own use of social media. Do you ever look back through your Facebook timeline or Twitter history? I do, occasionally. It can be instructive, and you might find that you have grown and changed over time.

I have definitely found this to be true with my Twitter use. I joined Twitter in the spring of 2009. The whole first year I was on Twitter, I had no idea what I was doing, or what it was for. It is almost comical to read the ridiculous things I was posting. It's like I wanted to know how to use the tool, but I really just had no idea what it was for or what possibilities it could hold for my own professional development.

This infographic from mediabistro perfectly describes my Twitter journey:

I was stuck at stage 2 for about two years before starting to figure it out.
It wasn't until the past three years that I really got the hang of Twitter as a key part of my personal professional development. The key?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Improving Online Discussions

In one of my courses this summer, I was assigned to create a tutorial for online instructors on a topic of my choice. I decided to make a tutorial providing advice for how to facilitate online discussions. Discussions can be one of the best parts of an online course, or one of the worst parts, depending on how they are organized, the kinds of prompts the instructors provides, and the way the instructor facilitates the conversation.

I had the following objectives for my presentation:
  • Articulate why online discussions can be a benefit in an online course. 
  • Develop skills necessary for organizing an online discussion: articulating expectations, facilitating vs. dominating the discussion, and considerations for assessment. 
  •  Explain how to prompt students to participate by using engaging questions. 
  • Analyze techniques for facilitating a conversation in an online discussion: grouping, "blindfolding," and using the FY3 strategy for responding to posts. 
I wanted to try and create the tutorial entirely on my iPad, and I was able to do so using the following tools: Haiku Deck for creating slides, Playback, for creating the screencast, and a YouTube playlist for presenting the video segments.

The tutorial is a five-segment video that I put into a playlist, so one video segment automatically leads into the next. Check it out!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Should we Rethink "Rigor?"

I am currently attending #RSCON5, an online conference (which is an interesting experience in and of itself--hundreds of attendees, all over the world, interacting via online tools.) We just had a plenary session with educational agitator, Dean Shareski (@shareski) to kick things off. The title of the session was "What Ever Happened to Joy?"--a great exposition of today's school culture.

There were so many great bits, and I snapped a few screenshots along the way. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Interesting to see which nations are "Very Happy."
The US is towards the top of this list...but well below 50%...

GREAT question to think about in terms of today's school culture...

Would using words like these make any student want to come to school?
How about any teachers? Hmmm...

Being full of childlike joy is NOT the same thing as being "childish."

These are all pretty good, aren't they? But this one was the kicker for me:

The problem is, I like the idea of a "rigorous" class. But what do we really mean by "rigor?" And, as Dean challenged us in this session, is rigor an enemy of joyful teaching and learning? Because the two places I hear the word "rigor" are...in school...and when referencing DEAD THINGS...as in rigor mortis. Hmmmm...

Lots of food for thought for me...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Getting Beyond Low-Level Tasks

Let's be honest: much of what passes for learning in many schools today is relatively low-level tasks that don't require too much on the part of students.

Curriculum developers don't help this situation, and tend to try and pre-package easily-digestible bits for the students.

Teachers (pointing the finger at myself here, at least early in my teaching career) are all too willing to follow the canned teacher's manual or pacing guide to move students through the steps.

We must provide them with practice to ensure that they remember the key facts and ideas! Worksheets galore!

How will we know if they have learned it? If they can appropriately regurgitate cut-and-dried responses to questions on tests, they must have learned it, right?

You may be getting a sense of my cynicism about this kind of teaching. My fear is that this approach continues to minimize the role of the teacher to a mere technician: get the kids to jump through the right hoops, press the right buttons, fill in the right bubbles on the sheet, and you've done your job, right teacher?

Let's commit to moving beyond just going through the motions to actually engage our students. Real learning is messy, complex, and multi-faceted. Let's ask our students to do work that gets beyond simple low-level tasks.

How shall we do this?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

PearlTrees: A Tool for Organizing Online Resources

I love learning new tech tools, and while I'd heard of PearlTrees before, I had never taken the time to work with it. It's a pretty slick tool!

Basically, PearlTrees is a social bookmarking tool, but the design of it makes it particularly conducive to creating a curated collection of resources about a given topic. This makes it ideal for educational settings in which you might want to provide students with a curated list of links, infographics, videos and the like to build background for a particular subject.

Here's an example PearlTree I created for my Introduction to Education Course. We spend a good bit of time in that course examining school reform initiatives, and this collection of resources will help them understand the history that brought us to the current point, some of the different reform initiatives currently being implemented, and the different perspectives in favor of or strongly opposed to these different reforms.

You do have to create an account to get started, but it's free and easy to do so. Once you do so, you can edit your profile, add a picture, give a few sentences to describe yourself, etc., or not, if you'd rather stay more anonymous.

You can create different categories for links and resources you want to keep track of and collate into curated lists. I installed the Chrome extension, which makes it drop-dead simple to add things to your collections and start new collections.

If you are the sort of teacher who might want to create and keep lists of links, videos, graphics, and the like for your students' use, PearlTrees might be just the solution you're looking for. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Outdated Technology and Outdated Pedagogy

Found this one via Twitter this morning (thanks, @BSGSCSFoster!) It's a gem, and well worth the eight minutes to watch it.

I laughed, but honestly, the Apple IIe from my elementary school days--clunky and odd as it looks today--stirred a passion for educational technology that brought me to the point where I'm now working towards a doctoral degree in the field.

I know that many people sing the praises of all things technological in schools, as if stirring more iPads and SMARTBoards and student blogging and mystery Skypes into the mix will automatically make teaching better, and learning better, and schools, in general, better.

I know that many people also decry technology in school, fearing that we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater in our rush to replace old and "outdated" teaching methodologies, techniques, and tools with new technologies.

But I think that setting this up as a fight between technology and pedagogy is a fallacy.

It's not an either-or proposition.

While I'm a technophile, I like to think I'm a reasonable technophile. I do advocate for technology in education, I admit. But I advocate moderation! Honestly, I believe that good teaching comes first. Technology shouldn't (and truly can't) replace a great teacher. Strong pedagogy trumps high technology every time.

But does that mean we shouldn't (thoughtfully, carefully, wisely) include technology in education today?

I say no.

We need to recognize where we are and when we are. North American culture today is high tech, thrives on novelty, and emphasizes individualism.

Please hear me well: I'm not saying we need to cater to this in schools. I am saying we need to recognize the power of these cultural forces, and recognize that our students have been shaped since birth by this culture. We need to teach the students we have in our classrooms today, be responsive to them. We need to recognize that they may have proclivities to technology, and be willing to adapt our teaching accordingly.

But that does not mean we need to chuck everything we are currently doing to embrace the electric glow of the future. In fact, I think we need to be ruminate on how we can redeem educational technologies, and use them to wisely to enhance our teaching and learning. Simply having them present will not do this. But, neither will simply excluding them.

Being deliberate about incorporating technological tools when it makes sense to do so (because it will have a positive impact on your teaching or on your students' learning) seems like a wise rule of thumb to me.

Today's state-of-the-art, cutting-edge educational technology will eventually be outdated and almost seem like a joke in light of what will then be the norm. But that may be true of some of our pedagogical practices as well.

Image by Neil Turner [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Managing Your Digital Footprint

I've been thinking lately about digital footprints, and I'm thinking about how to manage mine. (You could safely say that the class I'm taking on social network learning has been productive as food for thought.)

The Internet has a long, long memory. The things you say and do online are virtually impossible to eradicate. This may be a case where the best defense is a strong offense. How can you create a positive digital footprint?

Sometimes, the wisest course of action is to walk away from the keyboard.
Image by Steve Ransom [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

As an assignment for class, we were asked to research strategies for maintaining a positive digital footprint, and then share our findings with the class. I decided to create a PowToon to illustrate:

What do you think? Are there other strategies you would propose?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Guerrilla Teaching

I regularly participate in #iaedchat (Iowa education chat) on Sunday evenings (8 p.m. Central Time.) We discuss a wide range of topics, and it isn't just Iowa educators in the chat. If you teach and are on Twitter, I highly recommend it.

In our last Twitterchat we were discussing the value of peer visits to your classroom. We discussed the differences between administrator visits and peer visits, the nature of the feedback teachers can get from peers, and how to translate this feedback into action. The ideas were flying fast--lots of interesting approaches and great techniques!

I suddenly had the image of "guerrilla teaching"--instead of a structured visit, bursting in on a colleague's class (invited, of course) and joining in the teaching under way. I shared this idea to some enthusiastic response.

No, not this kind of guerrilla teaching! [Image from quimbob]